LatinNews Daily - 08 August 2022

COLOMBIA: Petro takes office

On 7 August, Gustavo Petro was inaugurated as Colombia’s first left-wing president.


Petro is riding an unexpected wave of goodwill from traditionally hostile parties, and in his inauguration speech he indicated that he intends to capitalise on that with some early major initiatives. First up is his government’s much-awaited tax reform, but other sweeping changes are also on the cards: restored ties with Venezuela, attempts at dialogue with all of Colombia’s armed groups, and a massive pivot to green energy.

  • Petro’s inauguration speech focussed on themes of peace and unity. He called on “all those who are armed to leave their weapons in the haze of the past; to accept legal benefits in exchange for peace, in exchange for the definitive non-repetition of violence.” He said that he would fulfil the 2016 peace accords with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Farc) guerrilla group and follow the Truth Commission’s recommendations “to the letter”. He reiterated his previous offer of talks with all armed groups, emphasising that peace in Colombia can only be attained through dialogue and compromise.
  • He hinted at changes in Colombian drugs policy, calling for “a new international convention that accepts that the war on drugs has totally failed, that it has left a million Latin Americans murdered over the last 40 years.”
  • In an early boost for the new government, Colombia’s largest drug trafficking organisation (DTO), the Clan del Golfo, yesterday announced a “unilateral ceasing of hostile offensives, as an expression of goodwill to the new government”. The DTO described Petro’s presidency as “a new era for our troubled country.”
  • Petro confirmed that his government’s tax reform bill will be presented today (8 August). He said the reform would “generate justice,” criticising the “immoral” fact that 10% of Colombians hold 70% of the country’s wealth. He assured Colombians that “taxes will not be confiscatory, they will simply be fair, in a country that must recognise the enormous social inequality that we live in as an aberration.”
  • He also announced forthcoming reforms to the health system, pensions, labour rights, and education, which would be partly funded by the tax reform.
  • Reviving a common thread of leftist Latin American leaders, Petro spoke of instilling unity among governments in the hemisphere, calling for cooperation in the face of global challenges.
  • Petro has been at pains to reassure investors that he is not planning radical expropriations or policies that will harm business. However, the new government retains a populist streak. Speaking the day before the inauguration, Vice President Francia Márquez warned that the Petro administration will face obstruction from “the most dangerous elite in the region”. Márquez, a celebrated environmental activist from the conflict-ridden department of Cauca, has made history as Colombia’s first black female vice president.
  • Petro named five more cabinet ministers yesterday, appointing Néstor Osuna as justice minister, Alfonso Prada as interior minister, Irene Vélez as mining and energy minister, Gloria Inés Ramírez as labour minister, and Catalina Velasco as housing minister. Ramírez’s appointment is a clear nod to Petro’s radical base, and she is by far the most controversial of his ministerial picks – a former member of the Partido Comunista Colombiano, she was investigated in 2008 for allegedly having links to the Farc while serving as a senator.

Looking Ahead: Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro is hankering for an early improvement in relations that soured dramatically under Petro’s right-wing predecessor Iván Duque. Petro’s team had agreed with the Maduro administration to resume diplomatic ties as soon as Petro took office. That has not yet happened, but major changes in Colombia-Venezuela relations remain in the pipeline.

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